The college's board of directors voted in favour of the tuition fee increase at their Feb. 28 meeting.
Cambrian associate vice-president of student services France Quirion, who presented the tuition fee proposals to board members, explained the province has not yet released its regulation framework for tuition fee increases.
However, she said she expects the province to renew the tuition framework from last year. Quirion said the college may have to adjust its tuition fees if the framework turns out to be different than expected.
In most cases, tuition is being increased by the highest amount allowed under last year's provincial regulations.
The overall average tuition increase at Cambrian is about 4.8 per cent, just slightly under the five per cent cap allowed by the province.
Tuition for first-year, full-time students is being hiked by 4.5 per cent. That means tuition will increase from $2,529 this school year to $2,643 for the next school year.
For second and third-year full-time students, tuition is being increased by four per cent. For degree programs such as nursing, tuition is being hiked 4.5 per cent in the first year and four per cent in continuing years.
While the college is allowed to hike tuition high-demand or graduate programs by eight per cent in the first year and four per cent in continuing years, the college didn't go for the maximum increase in all cases.
For example, in the advanced care paramedic program, there's a zero per cent tuition fee increase. However, tuition for this program, which is considered high demand, is already priced at $12,000.
Quirion said this is the case because the college wants to have comparable fees to other post-secondary institutions, and not price itself out of the market.
Colleges are allowed to charge more for high-demand programs because they're more expensive to operate and there's lots of jobs for graduates, she said.
Before board members approved the tuition fee increase, faculty representative Dave Starbuck questioned why the hike had to happen in the first place.
He said the college's faculty are locked into a contract with a zero per cent increase over the next two years, and staff are only getting a 1.75 per cent increase. Inflation rates are also very low.
While president Sylvia Barnard conceded this is true, she said there are multiple other costs the college has to cover which aren't funded by the province. These include electricity, repairs to buildings and upgrades to technology.
Short of coming back to the board with a budget where administration is recommending layoffs and program closures, the college is “not in a position financially” to avoid tuition hikes, she said.
If the college were to complain to the government that they're having difficulty balancing their budget because of funding freezes amid increasing costs, the government would just ask why Cambrian isn't using all the tools it's been given.
“One of the tools the government provides us with is the ability to increase the tuition within the parameters that they have laid out,” Barnard said.
When informed of the impending tuition fee increases, the president of the Cambrian College Students' Administrative Council (SAC) quipped “we're happy it's not $500, I'll tell you that much.”
At the same time, Curtis Bell said the provincial college student organization, the College Student Alliance, is asking the Ontario government to freeze tuition fees for two years.
He said it's “difficult and stressful” for students to find enough money to pay for tuition, books and living costs while they're in school, and when they graduate, many face high debt levels.
As someone who has attended both college and university, Bell said he has about $40,000 in OSAP loans. With tuition fee increases, students' debt loads will only increase, he said.